Monthly Archives: October 2007

When Google Docs Bite You In The Ass

Ever since I reinstalled my home PC with Vista a few months back I've been trying a little experiment of running it without Microsoft Office. I've heard some great things about Google Docs and since I almost never actually use Word or Excel, seeing as most of my life is spent inside of either Delphi, Visual Studio or E, I figured I'd save myself the price of an upgrade to Office 2007.

For the most part it's been fine, not great, not earth-shattering but workable and I've never had reason to complain until this weekend when my wife innocently asked me to print some quiz questions for a baby shower she was hosting. No problem, jump into Google Docs and type the questions and since my wife had put so much effort into making everything look polished I figured I'd do the same with the quiz.

The first head of Cerberus rears it's ugly mug with a slobber covered dog tag saying "Fonts". There are literally thousands of amazing fonts, created by true craftsmen, all designed to convey a certain feel to the printed word and I have access to none of them. Typographers out there, you must hate Google Docs with a passion. I always knew this was an issue in the back of my mind but running into it when you need it most goes beyond annoying.

Second issue that smacked me around was the the amazing suck of printing. Print preview is a true joke in Google Docs, it gives you no sense of how your text will look on the printed page thus making it impossible for me to see if my ten questions were nicely centered in the middle of the page. When I finally did print I laughed at how professional documents look when the bottom of the page has a url splashed across it. That is sarcasm for those that don't know. What I get from the whole printing aspect of Google Docs is that you shouldn't. If you ever need to actually print something, which those crazy space monkeys at Google must never do, then Google Docs is definitely not for you.

The third issue with Google Docs actually came tonight when a client sent me an Excel document that I needed to deal with and I clicked on the handy link inside of GMail that says, "Open as a Google Spreadsheet", only to be greeted with nothing. By nothing I mean a blank white pristine white sucking rectangle of space, that when I squint and read between the lines says, "Don't Use Google Docs". I tried it in IE7, I tried it in Firefox, I tried clearing my cache, I logged out and back in. Nothing. I need to deal with this document now, not when Google decides to fix the issue.

All of this combined means I'll probably pony up the cash to get Office 2007 but more importantly I'm now just a little more informed about Google Docs and it's limitations and uses. I did manage to live without Word or Excel for quite a few months with never running into any issues but if you don't use something often you probably won't hit many roadblocks. In Google Docs current state it's great as a temporary fix but like any temporary solution it will fail at some point and probably when you need it the most. Of course if you don't care about typography, layout, printing or reliability then Google Docs is great.

Develop for Your Customers, not other Developers

Recently my wife has been struggling with a web developer and he epitomizes a type that you find in specialized areas; someone that looks down upon and punishes those that aren't also in the field.

A classic example of this is the music critic. They'll lambaste whatever popular music comes down the pipe while heaping accolades upon bands that you can barely understand, lauding praise upon the intricate chord progressions or the unique way the guitarist bent the notes on the third change, hailing it as the album of the year and declaring the lack of it's appreciation as more proof of our general decline into mediocrity.

In software development this manifests itself as web sites that look horrible in Internet Explorer and have a snide comment along the lines of "Get a Real Browser, download FireFox now to see how this page really looks" or ugly e-mails with a top link saying, "If you're using GMail/Outlook/Insert Hated E-Mail Program Here then click here to see a better version or use a real e-mail program." Another even more juvenile form is when someone requests help in an online forum and some jackass responds with, "Well, if you had this OS/browser/computer/car/keyboard/mouse/console/Internet connection then you wouldn't have this problem." Oh let me tell you how useful that is.

The other way this manifests is when a developer gets more focused on a technology rather than the customer's experience. For example I love and develop CSS/XHTML-based web sites but if you're transitioning from old HTML 4.01 then your new XHTML strict site had better look as good if not better than the previous version otherwise it just appears like a step backwards to the customer.

Whenever you make a technology change, whether it's changing to or from a platform such as PHP, ASP.NET or Rails or it's adopting new standards you need to first ask, "How is this going to benefit my customers? Are they going to lose any functionality? Are they going to gain anything that makes the inevitable transition headaches worth it… for them?" Another important question is, "How does this affect the majority of my customers?". Too often I see new features being added to support the few but in order to implement them the many are punished or worse the entire customer base is inconvenienced because the developer got a wild hair and swore some new bit of kit would make everything so much easier, yet somehow it really doesn't.

I love shiny new things but it's important to not let all that shiny get in the way of the actual product.

Migrations for .NET coming in SubSonic

I’m being lazy and just posting a link because I think this feature is that cool:

SubSonic: Migrate Me

If you’ve used Rails you’ll know why this is so cool and if you haven’t then think “A really cool way to version your database schema and all it’s changes and it’s default data.” The Rails kids shouldn’t have all the fun. Read the article, Rob Conery will explain it much better than I ever could.

Plus, he’s been known to use phrases like “The Tits” when describing software features and you just don’t see quality writing like that just anywhere.

How Do You Listen to Music?

With the recent announcement of the new Zunes coming this fall and the accompanying software, firmware, web site, server and music policy changes a lot of people have taken up the popular Zune vs. iPod debate.

There are lots of comparing of features, disappointments that the Zune doesn’t do everything the iPod does and general hand wringing over the lack of various features. Some people are quite down on the new Zune, others much more excited, yet in all of this not many people touch on the core reason that iPods and Zunes exist… to listen to music.

A lot of people are upset over the lack of a WiFi Marketplace to compete with WiFi iTunes yet this doesn’t seem like a real need that occurs in the daily use of people’s lives. It is definitely cool to buy music from your device but after that initial, “Look what I can do!” how many people will actually use the feature? Do people find themselves that often away from a computer, needing to buy music yet happening to be near an open wireless hotspot?

Some people compare the iPod and Zune as if they’re comparing high-end sports cars that will be driven in 8-to-5 traffic. Does it really matter if you car can go 180 mph or that it’s 0 to 60 can smoke a new set of tires? Not really since those are rare edge cases, not anything that supports the core experience, that of sitting in mind numbing traffic.

All of this begs the question, how do you listen to music and what features best support that experience?

Personally I sync every day to get the latest podcasts and song ratings/metadata so Zune’s auto wifi sync is a time saver. I buy music from emusic and Amazon or actual physical CDs, a Marketplace/iTunes WiFi Store isn’t going to help me much there. I listen to a few daily podcasts so native podcasting ability is nice and both iTunes and the new Zune software have support plus FeedDemon actually does a great job so that’s a wash. I don’t use or want a PDA so the Touch is a bit of a non-feature. I have a medium (large?) music collection around 80gb so a 160gb iPod would be perfect, but that doesn’t have wireless anything so I lose out there.

Point being that when you apply a bit of reality to how you’ll actually use these devices there isn’t nearly that big a difference between them. Hell, a lot of the reasons I like the Zune is I just dig the matte-black look and bigger screen. I wish a lot more of these reviewers and bloggers would compare real world use vs. specs.

.NET Framework Source Code Being Released

One of the things I always loved about working with Delphi was the fact that the entire VCL framework's source code was shipped with the product. Being able to look at and debug into the existing framework code is an invaluable tool for both learning how things are done as well as debugging tricky issues.

Today Microsoft announced that they'll be doing the same for the .NET 3.5 framework in the upcoming Visual Studio 2008 release which is awesome news. Scott Guthrie has the deets.

While you've always been able to use a tool like Lutz Roeder's Reflector to get an approximation of the source code there are always little nuisances that get lost in the CodeDOM translation. Reading source code is really a great way to learn a language and I've often found other's code inspiring me to write better.

This is yet more good news for what's shaping up to be a pretty solid release with Visual Studio 2008. I've been using the beta for awhile now and find it hard to go to back 2005 for the few times I have to.